Brokers push innovative new school over the finish line

A school catering to children with social and emotional issues will open in Pasco this summer thanks in part to the efforts of its real estate brokers.

Candy Mountain Academy, which will serve children who can’t be treated in their home school district, is set to open Aug. 15 with 12 students at 120 S. Fifth Ave. in Pasco.

Brokers Todd Sternfeld and Kenny Teasdale of NAI Tri-Cities arranged the $642,000 property sale.

Charles “Chuck” Fleming, director of Candy Mountain Academy, said the brokers are playing a far larger role. They formed a company, bought the property and are investing in a major makeover of the two buildings, which collectively offer 8,100 square feet.

One will contain offices and the other eight classrooms. The modest building just west of the Pasco Farmers Market will get a total makeover and a California-style layout with a gated courtyard.

Candy Mountain Academy is an initiative of Educational Service District 123, the Pasco-based administrative support organization that serves 23 public school districts in the Mid-Columbia which collectively enroll about 70,000 students. The academy will serve district-referred students who need additional support before they return to their regular classrooms.

It will only serve students referred by their districts. Fleming advised parents who are interested to contact their districts about local services and referrals. Services vary by school district and there may be some that parents haven’t used yet.

The goal is always to serve children in the least-restrictive environment, which is usually their home school.

But for those who need extra social and emotional support, Candy Mountain Academy will be an added option.

Teasdale said he and his partner, Sternfeld, were moved to act when they couldn’t find a commercial space that fit its needs. It had a tentative deal to use another location that would have worked but not as well.

“Where they were going would have been a short-term fix,” he said.

The NAI Tri-Cities brokers offered to create a custom-built school and lease it to ESD 123, which they noted has offices in Pasco and good credit.

“We locked arms and are moving forward on it,” he said.

Fleming was awed that his agents would create the right building for Candy Mountain Academy.

“Our real estate agents are amazing,” he said.

Candy Mountain Academy will be an academics-driven program focused on helping children and returning them to their home districts. Ideally, its students will graduate from their home high schools with their peers, said Fleming.

“We just want to provide early intervention so they can go to high school,” he said.

The model is based on Centennial School in Lehigh, Pennsylvania.

Its founders, Nancy and Michael George, created the program and train staff to address issues related to emotional disturbances and autism. Centennial is affiliated with Lehigh University College of Education as a lab school to train special education teachers.

Fleming was part of the team that brought the model to Olympic Academy in Chehalis for ESD 113. While it is organized under the ESD program, it is a unique offering, following the belief that “just like reading and math skills, social/emotional skills can be taught.”

Fleming expects to open with three teachers and a dozen paraprofessionals serving students in the first through eighth grades. It will expand into high school grades as its students mature.

The program is funded by fees paid by ESD’s member school districts. The academy is not a residential program and districts are responsible for transporting students to central Pasco. In a nod to smaller districts that are too remote, the school has a regional coordinator to help districts serve children at home when possible.

Teasdale, the real estate agent, said the project has been through the city’s special-use permit process and the owners are negotiating with a contractor.

“It is a feel-good project. It’s as good as it gets,” he said.

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